Since Donald J. Trump’s electoral college win in the presidential election, there’s been a lot of talk from him and from Republican leaders in Congress about rolling back federal rules and even repealing some existing statutes. If animal protection policies are targeted, we’ll be ready to play defense and fight off attacks on our nation’s vital and well-justified animal protection laws. Should things go that way, it will be a contrast with the current administration, which has consistently produced important policy gains for animals. Today, I run through our biggest gains in federal lawmaking and rulemaking for 2016.
We are still awaiting the issuance of two critical final rules – cracking down on the heinous cruelty of horse soring and establishing “organic” standards to clarify the National Organic Program’s strong animal welfare principles. But 2016 will be remembered as yet another year of major animal welfare advances, in a wide range of policy areas. Although Congress did not finish up its work on several broadly popular measures – a federal anti-cruelty statute (which passed the U.S. Senate), the Pet and Women’s Safety Act, and a free-standing bill to clean up the horse soring problem – there were some important achievements.
Here’s a roster of key federal accomplishments for animals this year:
Animal testing and research
- Chemical testing on animals – Congress approved landmark provisions, as part of its reauthorization of the 40-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), to reduce – and ultimately replace – the use of live animals for testing tens of thousands of chemicals in the marketplace. This is a win for animals, the environment, public health, the chemical industry, and taxpayers, as the new law will drive a shift away from the arcane, cruel, and fundamentally flawed animal testing-based approach to modern technologies that are much less costly, faster, and yield more predictive results. In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency issued guidance for waivers of cruel skin poisoning tests for pesticides, expected to save upwards of 2,500 animals every year.
- Federal agricultural animal research – With an inside view from a long-serving, whistleblowing veterinarian, The New York Times in January 2015 exposed appallingly cruel and unnecessary experimentation on farm animals at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (USMARC), a U.S. Department of Agriculture laboratory in Nebraska. This year, the USDA implemented significant reforms (with plenty of pressure from Congress and the public) to crack down on the abuse of animals and waste of taxpayer dollars at federal facilities under its Agricultural Research Service, including USMARC. ARS updated its Animal Welfare Policy to apply the standards of care of the Animal Welfare Act to all of its animal research, and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service initiated inspections of ARS animal research facilities for compliance with the AWA.
- Downer calves – The USDA finalized a rule banning the slaughter of downer calves – an issue The HSUS put on the national radar with a pair of damning undercover investigations and a legal petition that threw back the curtain on the abuse of juvenile animals too sick, injured, or weak to walk. A 2009 rule banning the slaughter of adult downer cows left open a loophole allowing the slaughter of downer calves for human consumption. The new rule closes that loophole, requiring that all downer calves be promptly euthanized, and making clear that humane handling regulations apply to all animals as soon as they arrive at slaughter facilities. This establishes a financial incentive for producers to treat calves better to avoid creating downers, and it also removes the incentive to use cruel methods to get them on their feet.
- Military law –President Obama issued an Executive Order amending the Uniform Code of Military Justice that includes the specific crime of animal cruelty. Though such abuse is thankfully rare among military personnel, accounting for it explicitly, rather than lumping it in with the general classification of “disorders and neglects,” as was previously the case, will create a stronger deterrent. This reform is applicable to acts of animal cruelty by military personnel stationed anywhere in the world.
- U.S. Sentencing Commission – Congress has upgraded the federal law against animal fighting four times since 2002, with the federal law now making it a felony to fight animals, possess fighting animals, sell fighting implements, or bring a child to an animal fight. It’s also a misdemeanor to be a spectator at an animal fight. This year, the U.S. Sentencing Commission gave these changes even more weight when it issued an amendment to raise penalties for animal fighting in its sentencing guidelines, and added a sentencing guideline for anyone who attends an animal fighting event with a minor.
- Ivory – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a final rule that will protect African elephants by curtailing the commercial ivory trade in the United States. The United States is estimated to be the world’s second largest market for ivory product sales, behind China.
- END Act – Congress enacted the Eliminate, Neutralize, and Disrupt (END) Wildlife Trafficking Act to support global anti-poaching efforts, require an interagency approach and greater collaboration with governments of countries affected by wildlife trafficking and non-governmental organizations, allow serious wildlife crimes to trigger significant penalties under money-laundering statutes, and require annual reporting on how all tax dollars appropriated to fight wildlife trafficking are being spent.
- Designation of national monuments – Using his executive authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act to protect extraordinary natural and cultural places, President Obama designated two new national monuments in 2016 that are vital for wildlife protection: the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine, which will help support climate resiliency, and the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, the first marine national monument in the Atlantic Ocean, which is home to endangered whales and sea turtles as well as deep-sea corals as old as the redwoods. Additionally, the President significantly expanded the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument first established by President George W. Bush – making it the largest marine protected area on Earth. Papahānaumokuākea is home to more than 7,000 marine species, including sharks, whales, turtles, dolphins, monk seals, seabirds, thousands of fish species, and many other animals found nowhere else in the world.
- Alaska hunting regulations –The Department of the Interior finalized two rules prohibiting controversial and scientifically unjustified killing methods on nearly 100 million acres of National Wildlife Refuge lands and National Preserves in Alaska, including using airplanes to scout and shoot grizzly bears; luring grizzlies with pet food to get a point blank kill; killing wolf, black bear, and coyote mothers and their young at their dens; and trapping of grizzly and black bears with steel-jawed leghold traps and wire snares. These rules have been threatened with riders in the Interior Appropriations bills on which final action was deferred until April 2017.
- Public contact with dangerous wild animals – In response to a legal petition drafted by The HSUS, the USDA issued guidance to inspectors enforcing the Animal Welfare Act to start cracking down on roadside and traveling zoos that allow public contact with infant exotic cats such as tigers, lions, cheetahs, jaguars, and leopards. These menageries allow the public to handle infant tiger cubs and other exotic cats who have been prematurely removed from their mother’s care. This is a good first step because the infant cats suffer tremendously as part of these activities. We will continue to urge the agency to issue a regulation banning all public contact with dangerous animals of any age.
- Mixed-breed tigers – Under the Endangered Species Act, the FWS issued a final rule closing a regulatory loophole that exempted generic (mixed-breed) tigers from oversight. Generic tigers are no longer exempt from permitting requirements and, as a result, it will be much harder for roadside zoos and breeders to engage in commercial activities with captive tigers. This additional federal oversight will also help ensure that captive tigers are not used to supply the illegal international trade in tiger parts.
- Marine mammals in international fisheries – The National Marine Fisheries Service issued a final rule to protect marine mammals in international waters by requiring foreign nations that export to the United States to improve their fishing practices to reduce the risk of injury or death of marine mammals, consistent with U.S. standards for “bycatch.”
- Shark finning — The NMFS finalized a rule to implement the Shark Conservation Act, enacted in 2010 to close loopholes in federal law and better protect sharks from finning in U.S. waters. The final rule confirms that state shark fin laws in California, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Washington, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam are not in conflict with federal law.
- Right whales – The NMFS finalized a rule expanding critical habitat for North Atlantic right whales by approximately 39,500 square miles to include vital calving grounds in the southeastern United States, as well as important feeding areas off the northeast coast.
- Dolphins – The NMFS issued an interim final rule to enhance the requirements for documentation and training to support the “dolphin-safe tuna” label, and to extend the standards to all countries.
We will need to work hard to preserve these gains, and much work remains to be done. But this array of victories demonstrates again that animal protection enjoys broad bipartisan support and reflects core American values. That’s going to be our guidepost as we head into 2017 with our agenda of helping all animals.